Fears grow over Sri Lanka violence

Caritas Australia says that tsunami reconstruction projects it funded in Sri Lanka have ground to halt as fears grow that, with more than 200,000 people forced to flee their homes, the country is erupting into open conflict.

According to the Caritas Sri Lanka director, Fr Damian Fernando, the situation in the South Asian nation is very volatile.

"At any moment, anything can happen," he said. "The government appears to have gone on the offensive and to be seeking a military solution to the conflict. The country is on a war footing."

Fr Fernando claims that the Government is cracking down on "people who speak out in favour of or promotion of peace".

"We have various paramilitary groups that are active, and killings and disappearances are on the rise. Some of them are political killings, and some even happen in the capital Colombo, but sometimes it could be anybody that gets killed," he said.

More than 250,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict between Government and rebel Tamil Tiger forces since April last year.

Over the past two weeks, the east coast town of Batticaloa has become refuge to some 50,000 people fleeing attacks and shelling, a Caritas Australia statement says.

Batticaloa itself is now under attack with displaced people cramming churches, schools and under trees to seek refuge. Another 40,000 people have crossed from the conflict zones into government-controlled areas to flee the fighting.

The statement says that Caritas Sri Lanka is providing food and basic supplies to people trapped by the fighting, funded by its Australian counterpart.

Caritas says that the Catholic aid agencies in the conflict areas are now stocking up on items.

In a call to all conflicting parties to return to the negotiating table, Caritas Australia appealed to the international community to engage once again in Sri Lanka to help bring about peace.

Caritas Australia CEO Jack de Groot also called on the Australian Government to work with the Indian Government to get the peace negotiations back on track.

"Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is held in high regard in Sri Lanka and the Australian Government have an important role to play in working with regional players to bring about an immediate ceasefire and get the peace negotiations back on track," Mr de Groot said.

Caritas Australia Media Releases
Caritas alarmed by steady increase in violence in Sri Lanka (Colombo Page, 14/3/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Australia

Sri Lanka claims rebel grenade, cyanide find in church (CathNews, 22/2/07)
Contribute positively to peace, Sri Lankan bishops tell rebels (CathNews, 2/2/07)
Sri Lankan bombing killed Christian civilians, bishop says (CathNews, 8/1/07)
Sri Lankan bombing killed Christian civilians, bishop says (CathNews, 8/1/07)
Sri Lanka reopens road to avoid starvation (CathNews, 21/11/06)
Sri Lankan priest disappears as civilian toll mounts (CathNews, 25/8/06)
Sri Lanka ceasefire in tatters (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Caritas calls for pressure as Sri Lankan church bombed, schoolgirls killed (CathNews, 17/8/06)
Troops storm Church as Sri Lanka on brink of war (CathNews, 19/6/06)
Caritas calls for urgent mediation in Sri Lanka (CathNews, 27/4/06)

15 Mar 2007

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